At the London Vegfest (Oct 2015), I was in a panel during which we discussed whether celebrities who talk about animal suffering and vegetarian or vegan food, like Beyonce or Ricky Gervais, but also Ellen Degeneres or Paul McCartney, had a positive impact for the animals or are merely confusing their audiences about what vegan means.
I started by saying that I thought that anyone who believes that these celebrities are “confusing” the audience, are themselves maybe a bit confused about where exactly our society is at this point. That is a point where about 65 billion animals are killed every year. In a situation like that, I am not going to worry about whether people have or have not a perfect understanding of veganism (which, as my co-pannelist Dobrusia Gogloza pointed out, is a means and not an end) but I will celebrate and applaud everytime an influencer speaks positively about eating vegetarian or – even better – vegan food.
One has to realize that often, the veganism that the naysayers propose is quite demanding and specific. On social media, you can easily find complaints about any possible kind of vegan or near vegan celebrity. It seems they will never be vegan enough. Ellen Degeneres, who has reached millions of people with her vegan message, was not vegan enough (even before the shoe issue) because she was a cover girl of a magazine that was owned by Proctor & Gamble, which tests on animals. Not a vegan thing to do… Morrissey was attacked because he took too long to become a vegan (people should become vegan overnight, you know) and because he says some wrong things about vegans and veganism (making it seem difficult). One wonders what an “abolitionist-approved” celebrity would be able to say publicly – if anything at all.
Back to Beyonce, Ellen, Ricky etc. So what if these celebrities are not vegan or not perfect examples of veganism? Would it be better if they shut up altogether? I would assume that if only a tiny fraction of Beyonce’s or Ellen’s fans did a three week vegan experiment or went dietary vegan, that would just be wonderful, and we would still have opportunities enough to point out where they – both the celebs and their followers – could do better.
Should we, though? Should we always be so fast to point out where others may do better, just because we think we have achieved something by being vegan? I think it is, to put it mildly, somewhat arrogant to believe we can judge and condemn everyone who is not vegan, no matter what good they do. Paul McCartney, for instance, who is vegetarian but not a vegan, was accused of being damaging for animals – while we know that a vegetarian saves about 90% of the animals a vegan saves. If Macca has influenced millions of people with his pro veg message (and it’s not that he tells people to eat eggs and dairy, mind you), that has an impact. I shouldn’t even have to make that clear. Doubting that would be akin to doubting *any* kind of activism or outreach.
In any event, if we feel the need to inform celebrities about, let’s do it in a nice way, and not ad nauseam. Whenever a celebrity does or says something that’s even remotely related to animals rights or veganism, I’m always afraid a horde of vegans will descend on them and unleash a storm of tweets and Facebook comments which in the worst case will only serve to irritate the person in question. So far for “educating” them. Maybe it’s safer and smarter, sometimes, to trust people. To trust that they are on their way. And to look at the good things they do, and the strengths that they have. The main strength, in the case of celebrities, is their massive reach. I can only hope that those of them who care for animals or who see some benefits in eating less or no animal products, will use their channels to the best of their abilities, and that our movement will encourage them when they do so.
If you want to watch the whole debate: